You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow “The Penhallow way” – find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

Rating: Narration – A- Content – D+

I admit that I picked up You May Kiss the Bride for review solely because of Carolyn Morris. Reviews for this début historical romance, the first in Lisa Berne’s Penhallow Dynasty series have been mixed, but I knew I’d at the very least enjoy the narration, so I decided it give it a go. In the end, my opinions about the story are pretty much along the same lines as the less than glowing reviews; it’s nothing I haven’t read before and the author’s inexperience shows clearly in terms of the storytelling and characterisation.

Livia Stuart hasn’t had an easy life. Orphaned in India when she was a child, she was sent back to England and resides with her listless aunt and drunken uncle, who never really wanted her and who wouldn’t miss her if she disappeared. She is constantly patronised by her neighbour and local mean girl, the Honourable Cecily Orr, who pretends friendship but in reality does everything she can to make “dear Livia” aware of her inferior situation, insisting on giving her her cast off gowns and never missing an opportunity to point out Livia’s status as a poor relation.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Duke’s Society #1) by Madeline Hunter (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte Gray

This title may be downloaded from Audible.com.

Notorious nobleman seeks revenge

Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton. Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes. Family history: Scandalous. Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge. Ideal romantic partner: a woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon. Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

Faint of heart need not apply

Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: She’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married – especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere – along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Rating: Narration – D+ Content – B+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Madeline Hunter’s books and I count myself among her fans, but given she’s one of the biggest names in historical romance, she’s being very poorly served when it comes to audio. Her last series, the Wicked trilogy, started out well, with His Wicked Reputation being excellently narrated by Mary Jane Wells, but went downhill when Ms. Wells was not used for the rest of the series. I was so disappointed by Lulu Russell’s lacklustre performance in book two, (Tall, Dark and Wicked), that I didn’t bother listening to the final book and stuck to the print version. And for her new Decadent Dukes Society series, Ms. Hunter again gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop, this time with a narrator who sounds like a teenaged girl. Maybe casting youthful sounding narrators works in some genres, but it doesn’t work in romance and it REALLY doesn’t work in historicals, where you need someone who can inject those aristocratic males with a sufficient degree of hauteur while at the same time making them sound attractive enough to appeal as a romantic hero. To cast for the ingénue heroine (although the heroine in this book isn’t an ingénue) almost always means getting someone with a very narrow range, whose voice lacks the necessary resonance and colour to be able to render the hero and a range of supporting characters from formidable dowagers to old family retainers. Ms. Gray has a vocal range of about half an octave, and her ‘hero voice’ is higher in pitch than my normal speaking voice. In the book, Adam, Duke of Stratton, is supposed to be dangerous – he’s fought lots of duels, he’s got an unpredictable temper, he’s dark and brooding and sexy – but he sounds as though he’s barely out of short trousers. I wanted to warm him some milk, ruffle his hair and ask if he’d finished his homework yet.

If I were Madeline Hunter, I’d be seriously displeased.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Anthony Blake is in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot. But his plans to court her are put on hold when he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for the Crown. A secret document listing the names of the entire network of British spies-including his own-has been stolen. To protect Sophia, Anthony cuts off all ties to her and exchanges his life as an honorable earl for the façade of a flirtatious playboy.

Heartbroken and confused, Sophia travels to India, hoping to find healing in one of the most exotic regions of the British Empire. But the exotic land isn’t as restful as she had hoped. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery of a missing sea captain, a possible murder, and a plot that could involve the prince of India. And when Anthony appears at the British Residency, asking questions and keeping his distance from her, she is stunned.

She still loves him, and, in her heart, she knows he loves her too. But how can she rebuild her relationship with him if he won’t confide in her? Does she dare offer her heart to him a second time, or will their love be lost under the India sun?

Rating: D+

Nancy Campbell Allen’s The Secret of the India Orchid appealed to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, much as I enjoy historical romances set in Europe, I’m always happy to see ones sent in more far-flung locations; and secondly, the premise of a dashing spy forced to conceal his true nature and purpose beneath the façade of a wastrel in order to protect his nearest and dearest is a trope that I enjoy when done well. Sadly, however, neither of those elements is particularly well-executed, and, together with weak characterisation and poor plotting, made for a plodding, insipid read overall.

Anthony Blake, Earl of Wilshire has been in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot, for some time and is about to ask for permission to court her when his former boss and spymaster, Lord Braxton tells him that he must undertake one, last mission. Anthony, who was relieved to get out of the spying game a couple of years earlier upon assuming his title, is not best pleased at being drafted back into service, but when Braxton tells him of the theft of the Janus Document – which contains sensitive information about British agents, their families, their habits and every aspect of their lives, any of which could potentially be used as leverage against them – Anthony reluctantly agrees to retrieve it.

Two years later, still heartbroken over Anthony’s sudden departure and wanting to get away from her memories of him in England, Sophia lands in India, intending to spend some time there under the sponsorship of Lady Pilkington. She is, however, destined not to be able to use distance to lessen her attachment to Anthony because he’s recently arrived in Bombay on the next leg of his tour of carefree fun and frolic (as she thinks), and in reality still on the trail of the Janus Document. All Braxton could tell him about the theft was that he believed it had been perpetrated by someone who worked for him, Harold Miller. Anthony has received word that Miller’s uncle, a sea captain, is a guest of the Pilkington’s, hence his presence in Bombay. He believes the nephew may have passed the document to Captain Miller and intends to meet with him and interrogate him, but before he can do so, the captain is murdered and the contents of Lord Pilkington’s safe mysteriously disappear.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Her Favourite Duke (1797 Club #2) by Jess Michaels

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Simon Greene, Duke of Crestwood has been obsessed with Margaret Rylon for years. There is only one thing standing between them: her fiancé, who also happens to be his best friend. He is desperate not to destroy everything in his life by giving in to his desires, but when Meg and Simon are trapped alone together overnight during a storm, the resulting scandal not only breaks Meg’s existing engagement, but forces Simon to offer for her instead.

Margaret is sorry to have hurt her family and her fiancé, but all she’s ever wanted was Simon. Her determination to make a happy life with him is only heightened

when they submit to passions that have long dwelled beneath the surface. But while Simon may give her his body, he withholds his heart out of guilt and fear of what a connection to her may expose.

And if he doesn’t learn to fight for her soon, they both may lose a chance at happiness.

Rating: D+

I freely admit that I am not averse to a good dose of angst in the romances I read.  Because I know that everything will turn out in the end, it’s a safe way to indulge in a bit of heightened emotion and maybe even to reach for the Kleenex while knowing there’s that safety net of the eventual HEA.  So angst is fine.  Continual misery,  mental self-flagellation and navel-gazing? Not so much.  And that is almost all that this latest book from Jess Michaels offers.  Her Favorite Duke is based on the classic trope of young woman in love with her betrothed’s best friend; young man in love with his best friend’s betrothed, and oh, woe is we, for we can never be together.

Lady Margaret Rylon has been in love with her brother’s friend, Simon Green, Duke of Crestwood, for years.  They are great friends, sharing many interests and a sense of humour, and even though she is only sixteen, and he three years older, she dares to hope that perhaps one day they will be able to make a life together.  Her hopes are dashed, however, when her brother James arranges for her to marry another of his best friends, Graham, Duke of Northfield.

Seven years later – yes, you read that right, SEVEN years later – Meg and Graham are still not married.  I’ve heard of long engagements, but that seems pretty excessive, even though Meg was only sixteen when the betrothal took place.  There are no reasons given that make sense for this, and it’s hard to believe in all that time that neither Meg nor Graham ever wondered why they hadn’t set a date or that Meg’s brother – who obviously cares a great deal for her –  never questioned them or asked them to set one.

But if they had married, then there would be no book – and quite honestly, I think that might have been the better option. Anyway, now we’re in chapter one, James can encourage the pair to set a date, which finally makes things real for Meg.  Her friendship with Simon has become very strained and she is miserable; when she storms off during an outing, Simon can’t let her go alone and goes after her, without taking account of the vagaries of the English weather.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Brighter than the Sun (KGI #11) by Maya Banks (audiobook) – Narrated by Tad Branson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The Kelly Group International (KGI): A super-elite, top secret family run business.

Qualifications: High intelligence, rock-hard body, military background.

Mission: Hostage/kidnap victim recovery. Intelligence gathering.

Handling jobs the US government can’t.

As the last unattached member of the Kelly clan, Joe is more than ready to risk life and limb on any mission he’s assigned to, but when it comes to love, he’ll keep his distance. He’s content to watch his brothers become thoroughly domesticated.

Zoe’s had nothing but heartbreak in her life, and she’s determined to start over with a completely new identity thanks to her college friend Rusty Kelly. But it’s the gorgeous smile and tender words of Joe Kelly that begin to weaken her resolve to never risk her heart again. And Joe will have to put everything on the line to save Zoe when secrets of her past resurface – and threaten to tear them apart.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – D

This eleventh book in Maya Banks’ KGI series of romantic suspense novels, Brighter than the Sun, would have been more appropriately titled Duller than the Dishwater. Honestly, I’m really glad I managed to listen to most of it while I was on the move, either around the house or in the car, otherwise I’d be suffering from the concussion incurred as a result of the number of times I’d’ve banged my head on the desk to keep myself awake.

I can’t believe this is supposed to be a romantic suspense novel. It’s a total misnomer, because it doesn’t possess much of either; the pacing is snail-like and there is NO action worth the name, NO suspense and NO romance, unless you count insta-lust as romance. And I don’t.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Only a Mistress Will Do (House of Pleasure #3) by Jenna Jaxon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The man of her dreams . . . belongs to another woman.

Destitute and without friends, Violet Carlton is forced to seek employment at the House of Pleasure in London. She steels herself for her first customer and is shocked when the man rescues her instead of ravishing her. A grateful Violet cannot help but admire the handsome Viscount Trevor. But she must curb her desire for the dashing nobleman she can never have because he is already betrothed to another . . .

Tristan had gone to the House of Pleasure for a last bit of fun before he became a faithful married man. But when he recognizes the woman in his bed, he becomes determined to save her instead. Now, his heart wars with his head as he falls for the vulnerable courtesan. Unable to break his betrothal without a scandal, Tris resolves to find Violet proper employment or a husband of her own. Still, his arms ache for Violet, urging him to abandon propriety and sacrifice everything to be with the woman he loves. . .

Rating: D+

It can be tempting, when you read hundreds of books a year, to confine yourself to picking up titles by authors whose work you know you are going to enjoy. But when it comes to reviewing, I make a point of sampling books by some of the newer names in historical romance, and sometimes I’m lucky and I find a new author to add to my ‘’must read’ list. Sadly, however, it’s been my experience that the ‘finds’ are in the minority.

Jenna Jaxon’s Only a Mistress Will Do is most definitely NOT a find; in fact I now wish I’d lost it before I even started. Its overly contrived plot relies heavily on coincidence and consists of one cliché after another; no sooner have our hero and heroine emerged unscathed from one melodramatic development than they are thrust into another. The protagonists are barely two-dimensional, their behaviour is inconsistent and frequently contradictory, and the big reveal before the halfway point is no surprise whatsoever. And worst of all, this is a ‘romance’ in which readers are repeatedly told the hero and heroine love each other but are never shown the relationship progressing. By a quarter of the way through the novel, we’re meant to believe they’re desperately in love, but there is no chemistry and no romantic development; honestly, had I not been reading the book for review, I’d have abandoned it well before the halfway point.

Violet Carlton has been left destitute following the recent death of her grandmother and has reached the point where the only thing of value she has left to sell is herself. Remembering the name of a brothel once mentioned by her deceased brother (who was killed more than a year earlier in a duel) Violet makes her way there and asks the madam to employ her. A lovely, well-bred virgin will fetch a high price, so the woman is quite happy to accommodate Violet, and five days later, she is sent her first client, the man who has bought and paid for her virtue.

Violet, expecting an elderly roué, is surprised when a darkly handsome young man arrives, but even as she finds herself responding to his caresses, she can’t forget how low she has fallen and is unable to stop herself from crying.  Fortunately for her, this ‘Lord John’ is sympathetic to her plight and, on being told the truth behind her need to earn her living on her back, immediately makes plans to remove Violet from the brothel.  He takes her to the house that was, until recently, occupied by his mistress, promising Violet that he expects nothing in return, and explaining that he knew her brother slightly and is doing his gentlemanly duty by rescuing a damsel in distress.  He also tells her that he is betrothed and has no designs on her; he believes in fidelity in marriage, having seen his parents’ relationship torn asunder by his father’s unfaithfulness, and has no intention of walking the same path.

Tristan, Viscount Trevor, installs Violet in the house and offers to try to find her respectable employment as a companion or governess.  Over the next few weeks, they spend time together in the evenings, talking and getting to know each other, until – bam! – they’re in love and desperately trying to hide it from each other.  Tristan’s enquiries as to a situation for Violet are unsuccessful so he decides that there is only one other option; he must find her a husband.  He can’t marry her himself, but he can at least make sure she weds someone who will treat her well.  Although of course, he is eaten up with jealousy at the thought of her in another man’s arms, and practically snarls when any other man comes within three feet of her.

But naturally,  the passion they feel for one another will not be contained and the inevitable happens – they shag each other’s brains out and Tristan decides that he cannot go through with his marriage to the sweet Miss Harper, whom he had only agreed to marry in order to fulfil his father’s dying wish of gaining possession of the land that marches alongside Tristan’s Yorkshire estate.  But hold – Violet cannot allow him to go back on his word and besmirch his gentlemanly honour!  No, he must not sacrifice his good name for her and taint any children they might have with scandal – he must marry his innocent debutante and be happy!  Hmmm. ‘I will not allow you to sacrifice yourself’ is one of my least favourite tropes in the genre; it’s patronising and implies that the person making the sacrifice is not capable of making their own decisions.  But there is worse to come, although anyone in possession of more than half a braincell will have already worked out exactly why Tristan has been prepared to go to such lengths to help a complete stranger.  After that big reveal, Violet naturally goes from ‘woe is we, doomed to love but can’t be together’ to ‘OMG I will hate you forever!’.

I normally try to avoid spoilers when writing a review, but sometimes they’re unavoidable if one wants to give an accurate picture of exactly what is wrong with a book.  Anyone who has made it to this point and is STILL thinking of reading this novel, look away now.

After the reveal, Violet runs back to the brothel where Tristan found her – and when he finds her there again, she’s just received proposal of marriage from one of his friends.  I started to wonder if it was a bordello or a dating agency, because nobody in this book gets any action there!  Then I was hit by a massive sense of déjà-vu when the prospective groom turns up the next morning to tell Violet he can’t marry her after all because of… er… another… er… thing.  Or something. I never found out what.  So.  Bloke number 1 (Tristan) rescues Violet from a brothel without shagging her, wants to marry her but can’t owing to another obligation.  And bloke number 2 (Tristan’s friend) rescues Violet from a brothel without shagging her, wants to marry her but can’t because… I’ve heard of authors recycling plots, but have never come across it in the same book!

Not content with repeating herself, Ms. Jaxon rummages around in her big ol’ bag of clichés in order to put Violet in yet another tricky situation before finally engineering the ending of Tristan’s betrothal and an HEA for this insipid and unengaging couple.  Only a Mistress Will Do suffers from the cardinal sin of too much telling and not enough showing, and the author has thrown in far too many hackneyed plot devices and failed to develop the romance to even the most basic degree.  Tristan is a walking erection around Violet; fire erupts at the apex of her thighs whenever he touches her (I think she should probably get some ointment for that!) … but exploding loins do not a romance make.  This is the third book in a series, and if you want to subject yourself to it, it can be read  as a standalone. But I really don’t recommend it.

Foolish Bride (Forever Brides #2) by A.S. Fenichel

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sadly ever after . . . unless some dreams really do come true?

Elinor Burkenstock never believed in fairy tales. Sure, she’s always been a fool for love—what woman isn’t? But Elinor knows the difference between fiction and truth. Daydreams and reality. True love and false promises. . . . Until the unthinkable happens, and Elinor’s engagement is suddenly terminated and no one, least of all her fiancé, will tell her why.

Sir Michael Rollins’s war-hero days seem far behind him when, after one last hurrah before his wedding, he gets shot and his injuries leave him in dire shape. He wants nothing more than to marry Elinor, the woman of his wildest dreams. But Elinor’s father forbids it . . . and soon Michael is faced with a desperate choice: Spare Elinor a life with a broken man or risk everything to win her heart—until death do they part?

Rating: D

I’ve seen A.S Fenichel’s name around and am aware of her as an author of historical romance, but haven’t yet got around to reading any of her books, so I nabbed a copy Foolish Bride to see if I might find myself another new(ish) author to trust. But, and to quote Han Solo – “Sometimes, I amaze even myself” with my foolish optimism, because, dear reader, this is a book even a Wookie wouldn’t touch at the end of a ten-foot pole.

The plot is tissue-paper thin, the two central characters are immature, woefully underdeveloped and not at all engaging and the writing is unsophisticated and wooden as well as being far too modern in tone and littered with errors and historical inaccuracies. But before I get to those, here’s the woefully flimsy plot. Sir Michael Rollins and his fiancée, Lady Elinor Burkenstock (which makes me think of shoes), are engaged to be married and their big day is almost upon them. But although he is a knight, Michael is pockets to let, thanks to the irresponsibility of his predecessors and he insists that he must be ‘worthy’ of Elinor before he can marry her. She’s not badly off – her father has recently been granted an earldom – but Michael is proud and doesn’t want to live off his wife. However, he has one last job he must do – which she thinks is to do with commerce, but it quickly becomes clear he’s a spy – and urges her to be patient for the next month while he is away.

Sadly, their reunion is destined not to be, when, a month later, Elinor’s father tells her he’s calling off the wedding. He won’t tell her why, leaving it to her mother to explain that it’s because Michael can no longer give her children. It seems he has sustained an injury of some sort – which is never disclosed, but surely he wasn’t shot in the nads? – which has rendered him impotent. I couldn’t help asking – as, to her credit, did Elinor – how anyone could possibly know such a thing, but there you go; Michael is not prepared to saddle the woman he loves with a man who is no longer whole. They part in anger – but can’t forget each other. And as a side note, we never find out if that final mission made him ‘worthy’ of Elinor or not.

Then the Duke of Middleton (whose first name is Preston – and I’m sorry but all I see is the cyberdog from Wallace and Gromit) starts to take an interest in Elinor – to her mother’s delight – but even though he’s kind, handsome and very personable, Elinor is still in love with Michael. Yet she thinks she might have to marry Middleton after all, because she’s got to marry someone and it’ll get her mother off her case. But – hang on – Michael is a duke now, so surely she can marry him and keep her parents happy? But no. Michael determined not to approach Elinor until he knows if his wedding tackle will ever work again, and she is determined to keep her distance because he’s been such a dickhead to her.

Most of the book consists of Elinor being angry at Michael whenever she sees him, and then moping about how much she wuvs him and wants him back.  But having a sensible conversation and thrashing everything out never occurs to them; if it had, I’d have been spared just under three hours of wince-inducing reading.

Fortunately – our lovebirds reconcile somewhere around the middle of the book. Unfortunately –  with half a book to go, there’s more craptasticness ahead.  Kidnapping.  Attempted Murder. Lies.  Insanity.  At this point the book changes direction and becomes a ‘heroine-in-peril’ story, but I’d lost interest well before then.  Had either of the two protagonists been remotely well-drawn or intriguing, I might have maintained at least some level of interest, but they were pretty pathetic and I couldn’t find it in me to give a toss about either of them.

The list of inaccuracies I found is longer than the plot synopsis, so I’m only going to list a few of them here.  For one thing, the timeline of the story is all over the place. Michael leaves to go on one last mission, implying that England and France are still at war, yet the war is never mentioned.  When he is recovering from his injury and is able to get up, he walks with a pronounced limp and is in pain.  Yet not many pages later he’s at a ball asking Elinor to dance.  Then his limp returns.  Then it disappears.  It seems his manly parts are okay after all but he gets a terrible headache whenever he gets an erection (which gives a whole new meaning to ‘not tonight, love, I’ve got a headache’, doesn’t it?).  But wait – Elinor’s vagina must be magic, because once he shags her, he doesn’t get the headaches again!

Then there is the party at which one lady plays pieces by Chopin.  Who was born in 1810 and who would have been ten at the end of the Regency era. I know he was a genius, but I don’t think he’d written much or had it published by the age of ten.  And I really hope that the ‘canopies’ served to the guests at one particular party were caught by the proof-reader, otherwise there would have been several bad cases of indigestion the following morning.

There’s plenty of non-period language and an overall modern feel to the prose, which is workmanlike at best. People say they are ‘okay’ (a word which is thought to have originated in the US in the 1840s) and we’re told, for instance that someone must have “kissed as much ass as a courtesan”.  I never knew courtesans liked kissing donkeys (or stupid people), which is what ‘ass’ means in the UK in 2017 just as it did in 1817 (or whenever in the Regency the book is set). At around the 25% mark on my Kindle, I was ready to DNF when the hero – a knight – is informed that he is to receive a dukedom for services rendered to the crown, which is rather a big step up – but that wasn’t the reason my brain baulked at reading any more.  No, that was because the information was given to him by a police Inspector. WHAT?!  For one thing, this book being set in the Regency period, there was no such thing as a police force and so that rank did not exist.  But for another – becoming a duke requires a hell of a lot of legalese and paperwork, as well as being a big rise in status.  Surely the king – the next highest rank – or his representative should have told Michael about it, rather than one of his mates telling him, “oh, and by the way…”?  These things aren’t hard to find out, which makes such errors all the more unforgivable.  Or, in this case, Foolish.

There is more, but I think that’s enough for this review.  It’s obvious I’m not going to recommend Foolish Bride; I read books like this so you don’t have to.  Give it a wide berth and spend your hard-earned cash on something good instead.